Every faith tradition has some form of prayer. No matter their concept of deity; God, Allah, ancestors, whomever, each has a way of addressing their object(s) of worship. There is beauty, insight and understanding in the vastly diverse rituals and observances of other religious groups. I’ve picked a few denominations from the major religious classifications and researched the following questions: To whom do they pray? What is the process? And what is the expected result? I’ve also included a sample prayer from each group. This exploration is necessarily shallow, but I think it gives an appetizing taste of each flavor. Some of these questions were hard to find answers for, but they are all interesting in their own way. I hope you find insight while reading them.
All Catholic prayers are to God. Frequently, Catholics will pray through a mediator who is then believed to petition God in behalf of the person praying. Mary, the mother of Jesus and the various canonized saints are the mediators.
There are two basic categories of Catholic prayer, vocal and mental. Vocal prayers are written prayers that are recited aloud. There are thousands of them, in various languages, for different purposes and occasions. Common categories include Praise, Intercession (on behalf of another) supplication and gratitude. The most common and recognizable are the Rosary prayers, which are recited while the person holds and counts on the rosary beads. The Rosary is generally a demonstration of devotion and may be required, by a priest, in the process of penance.
The mental prayer does not necessarily address God, but is a meditation, contemplating spiritual matters and pondering the mysteries. The person may engage in a dialogue with God asking for specific guidance or blessings, and then make resolutions about how to better serve him.
Generally a person expects enlightenment and understanding. In a prayer of supplication, a person is asking for Gods personal intervention, which may include miracles.
The Rosary consists of the following prayers:
The Apostles Creed
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. Amen.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Glory Be To The Father
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Protestants generally include Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians. They all believe in praying directly to God.
Most Christian denominations will assume a certain posture for prayer. Typically it involves bringing hands together, closing the eyes and bowing the head, although not all groups are strict about these elements. Protestants all use written prayers with varying levels of strictness, except the Baptists. Baptists have a looser idea about prayer as a direct communication with God. They all use a form of prayer beads similar to the Rosary, except the Baptists. Protestants see prayer as a demonstration of devotion that will persuade God to reward them with enlightenment, understanding and positive intervention in their lives.
Methodists use the Wesley covenant prayer:
“I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant, which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Episcopalians recite The Great Littany:
“O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth,
Have mercy upon us.
O God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy upon us.
O God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the faithful,
Have mercy upon us.
O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God,
Have mercy upon us.
Remember not, Lord Christ, our offenses, nor the offenses
of our forefathers; neither reward us according to our sins.
Spare us, good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast
redeemed with thy most precious blood, and by thy mercy
preserve us, forever.
Spare us, good Lord.
From all evil and wickedness; from sin; from the crafts
and assaults of the devil; and from everlasting damnation,
Good Lord, deliver us.”
Other Protestant prayers including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists are similar. It is interesting to note that Catholics and most Protestant religions do not believe in revelation of any kind, including answers to prayer.
Since Buddhists don’t worship a divine creator, they don’t try to communicate with one. Their goal is a state of unity with all living through denial of the self. They use meditation as a method to achieve this state. Rather than prayer, Buddhists recite Mantras, phrases repeated over and over, as a method of focusing the mind.
Christians, Hindus, and Muslims also include meditation as part of their spiritual practice.
The process involves sitting in a comfortable position and focusing the mind. Meditation techniques can be quite involved and very difficult to master. Among the most basic, is concentration on breathing, centering your consciousness on that one activity only.
In Tibet, prayers are printed on colorful flags and then displayed to bless the surrounding area. The colors; blue, white, red green and yellow, represent the five elements; sky, wind, fire, water and earth.
The expected outcome is Nirvana, the loss of self to the universal consciousness.
“Sabba satta sukhi hontu” – May all beings be well.
“Oem” – Everything, completeness, past, present, future, the whole world.
The seven line prayer of Tibetan Buddhism:
AH KA SA MA RA TSA SHA TA RA SA MA RA YA PHAT
(In the northwest of the country of Oddiyana
Born on the pistil of a lotus:
Endowed with the most marvelous attainment,
Renowned as the Lotus-Born (Padmasambhava);
Surrounded by a retinue of many Khadros
Following you I practice:
Please come forth to bestow blessings.)
Hinduism is a polytheistic faith with multiple divine personalities and various incarnations of some deities. The Hindu perception of these deities is generally less literal than the Christian perception, for example. Rather than direct communication, Hindu prayer is a way to demonstrate devotion in hopes of gaining favor with God.
The process involves chanting of specific mantras over and over, usually to music of some kind. The chanting is often accompanied by Yoga (“to add, to join, or to unite”) a method of physical discipline intended to focus spiritual practice.
Hindus expect to achieve enlightenment, a higher spiritual consciousness, by simply chanting the various mantras. They also seek to demonstrate their devotion to God(s) by their efforts, and by so doing, gain good fortune.
Oṁ Sahanā vavatu
Oṁ Shāntiḥ, Shāntiḥ, Shāntiḥ.
“Oem! Let the Studies that we together undertake be effulgent;
Let there be no Animosity amongst us;
Oem! Peace, Peace, Peace.”
Namokar Mantra (from the Jainist sect)
Namo Loe Savva sahunam
Mangalanam cha savvesim, padamama havai mangalam
“I bow to the Arihants, the Conquerors.
I bow to the Siddhas, the liberated ones.
I bow to the Acharyas, the Preceptors.
I bow to the Upadhyays, the Teachers.
I bow to all the Sages of the world.
This five-fold salutation completely destroys all the sins.
And, of all auspicious mantras, (it) is indeed the foremost auspicious one.”
Shinto is primarily practiced in Japan. It is a polytheistic faith where the Gods (Kami) generally represent elements of nature.
Prayers are offered ritualistically in writing, along with an offering, usually of food, at various shrines throughout Japan.
It is hoped that the prayers, offered as acts of devotion, will please the Gods and bring good fortune.
Shinto Prayer for Peace
Although the people living across the ocean surrounding us,
I believe, are all our brothers and sisters,
why are there constant troubles in this world?
Why do winds and waves rise in the ocean surrounding us?
I only earnestly wish that the wind will soon puff away all the clouds,
which are hanging over the tops of the mountains.
Taoists don’t worship a central deity, although they recognize a number of lesser, local gods, including ancestors, who perform small favors to assist the people in their daily lives. Prayers are offered to these deities, individually and collectively.
In Taoism, prayers are performed by priests, in temples. People who come to the temples will make offerings of food as part of the ritual. Prayers are offered in the form of chanting and are very complex and exacting. Priests also dance and offer burning incense. The incense symbolizes an offering to the Gods where the prayers ascend up to heaven as smoke and the impurities fall to the earth as ash.
Physical discipline in the form of martial arts and acrobatics are common among practitioners as part of a spiritual path. Some practitioners also use beads as part of their meditative practice.
As with many other forms of prayer, it is expected that if you can manage to please the Gods, they will enhance your good fortune.
Invocation for health and longevity:
Jiu Tien Ying Yuen, Lei Shang, Pu Hua Tien Chun.
(The Divine One of Universal Love and Thundering Response.)
Qing Jing Wei Tian Xia Zheng
(When the mind is clear and still, all things under heaven fall into place.)
Wu Wei Er Wu Bu Wei
(The Dao Does Not Act, But There Is Nothing That It Does Not Achieve.)
Muslims view Allah (God) as a strict and vindictive being who demands exactness. Their prayers reflect this belief. Muslim prayers are very structured with specific motions that accompany the recitation of prescribed phrases; bowing, kneeling, and raising of the hands. They believe that failure to participate in the five required daily prayers makes a person either an unbeliever or an unholy sinner.
Each of the daily prayers, as well as prayers that are offered on special occasions, consists of dressing in clean clothing, washing arms, feet, hair, beard and ears, thrice, then retiring to a clean space. The prayers are performed while kneeling and bowing on a specially designated prayer rug. The person should consider each prayer as if it were their last. The prescribed prayer is recited from memory along with the accompanying motions. Men and Women pray separately and there are unique phrases and motions for each. There are differences between various sects regarding how this is to be done, but they are based on the same general ideas. Pre-pubescents, menstruating Women and women who are experiencing post-natal bleeding, are forbidden from participating. If the person makes any mistakes in the recitation of the prayers, there is a special prayer to be recited between the regular prayers. There are also several voluntary prayers which can be offered at specified times.
Muslims also use prayer beads, although it is not required, it is strongly recommended to recite the 99 names of God (corresponding to the 99 beads) after each of the daily prayers. The Sufi’s, an order of Muslim mystics, are particularly devoted to this practice.
Prayers are only recited in Arabic.
Takbir Tahrimah, Dua Al Istiftah, Ta’awwuz, Tasmiah, Surah Fatiha.
Allah is the Greatest!
Praise and glory be to You, O Allah.
Blessed be Your Name, exalted be Your Majesty and Glory.
There is no god but You.
I seek Allah’s shelter from Satan, the condemned.
In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful.
Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Universe,
the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful!
Master of the Day for Judgment!
You alone do we worship and You alone do we call on for help.
Guide us along the Straight Path,
The path of those whom You have favored,
Not the path of those who earned Your anger, nor of those who went astray. Amen.
Qawmah, Sajdah, Jalsah, Sajdah, Tashahud
Glorified is my Lord, the Great.
Allah listens to those who praise Him.
Our Lord, praise be for You only.
Glorified is my Lord, the Exalted.
O my Lord, forgive me and have Mercy on me.
All our oral, physical and monetary ways of worship are only for Allah. Peace, mercy and blessing of Allah be on you, O Prophet.
May peace be upon us and on the devout servants of Allah.
I testify that there is no god but Allah and I testify that Muhammad is His servant and messenger.
O Allah, send Your mercy on Muhammad and his posterity as you sent Your mercy on Abraham and his posterity. You are the Most Praised, the Most Glorious.
O Allah, send Your Blessings on Muhammad and his posterity as you sent Your blessings on Abraham and his posterity. You are the Most Praised, the Most Glorious.
Our Lord, grant us the good in this world and that of the Hereafter and save us from the torture of Hell.
Peace and Mercy of Allah be on you. Peace and Mercy of Allah be on you.
Most Native American tribes worship one Deity, commonly called The Great spirit. They address him directly in prayer.
Prayers are usually offered by a Shaman or Medicine Man on behalf of an individual or group. Many tribes use a prayer stick, usually a wood stick carved and brightly painted. It is decorated with feathers, which “breathe” the prayer to The Great Spirit. Some sticks are also wrapped with leather and may have a bag of cornmeal or tobacco attached. It is held during the prayer as an offering and then usually buried at a significant site such as a planted field or battle site.
The hope is that the demonstration of devotion and gratitude will convince The Great Spirit to intervene and cause positive results.
A Sioux prayer:
Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the winds
Whose breath gives life to the world, hear me
I come to you as one of your many children
I am small and weak
I need your strength and wisdom
May I walk in beauty
Make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have made
And my ears sharp to your voice.
Make me wise so that I may know the things you have taught your children.
The lessons you have written in every leaf and rock
Make me strong——–!
Not to be superior to my brothers, but to fight my greatest enemy…myself
Make me ever ready to come to you with straight eyes,
So that when life fades as the fading sunset,
My spirit may come to you without shame.
Jewish people pray to God. The prayers are highly structured and regimented, with prayers for specific times and occasions. Men pray three times daily, Women once. They are generally less strict about the observance than Islam although the format is similar. They have a different view of God. They see Him as individually responsive to them.
The three daily required prayers are: Sacharit, Mincha, and Ma’ariv/Arvit. For the Sacharit, a man is required to cover his head, wear a prayer shawl and Tefillin. Tefillin are phylacteries or small cubic leather boxes containing scrolls with verses from the Torah. They are tied to the head and arms with black leather straps. The prayer shawl and Tefillin aren’t required for Mincha or Ma’ariv/ Arvit. Women and men are expected to dress modestly, covered from wrist to ankle and some women wear the Tefillin. These prayers are recited every weekday with special versions recited for Shabbat. There are also specific prayers for holidays: Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot, and others for special ceremonies such as a Bar/ Bat Mitzvah or Briss. Each of the daily prayers is required to be recited during a specific time range.
The Hebrew word for prayer means “Judge Oneself” so the purpose of prayer is personal change. Judaism teaches that personal revelation is available through prayer as part of that personal change. Prayer is also thought to discipline a person to focus on God through intellectual contemplation.
Kabbalah (Jewish Mysticism) teaches that by directing our intent, through disciplined observance, we can affect reality. By carefully pondering every letter of every word in a prayer we may create and restore the balance of the universe.
Bar Mitzvah blessing:
“May you live to see your world fulfilled, May you be our link to future worlds, and may your hope encompass all the generations to be. May your heart conceive with understanding, may your mouth speak wisdom and your tongue be stirred with sounds of joy. May your gaze be straight and sure, your eyes be lit with Torah’s lamp, your face aglow with heaven’s radiance, your lips expressing words of knowledge, and your inner self alive with righteousness. And may you always rush in eagerness to hear the words of One more ancient than all time.”
Grant peace, goodness, blessing, grace, kindness, and compassion upon us and upon all of Your people Israel. Bless us, our Father, all of us as one, with the light of Your face, for with the light of Your face You gave to us, Adonai our God, the Torah of life and love of kindness, righteousness, blessing, compassion, life, and peace. And may it be good in Your eyes to bless Your people Israel at every time and at every hour with Your peace. Blessed art You, Lord, Who blesses His people Israel with peace.
Wiccan and Pagan
Both Wicca and Paganism are general terms with very loose definitions. They are markedly non-Christian. They worship nature and incorporate elements from the natural world in their rituals.
Wiccans generally worship a Goddess representing moon, stars and Mother Earth, and a God representing the sun, forests and animals. Prayers to them are, largely composed by followers, although written versions are common.
Paganism includes such denominations as Satanism, Druidism, Hellenism, and the ancient Cult of Diana.
Prayer among these groups is usually accompanied by offerings and sacrifices, ranging from plants, water, flowers and soil to some pretty nasty stuff that you probably don’t want to hear about.
These groups believe heavily in magic, they are the originators of witchcraft. Prayers are actually regarded as spells, in many cases invoking the assistance of supernatural forces.
Dyro Dduw dy Nawdd;
Ag yn nawdd, nerth;
Ag yn nerth, Deall;
Ag yn Neall, Gwybod;
Ac yngwybod, gwybod y cyfiawn;
Ag yngwybod yn cyfiawn, ei garu;
Ag o garu, caru pob hanfod;
Ag ymhob Hanfod, caru Duw.
Duw a phob Daioni.
(Grant, O Goddess, Thy protection;
And in protection, strength;
And in strength, understanding;
And in understanding, knowledge;
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it;
And in that love, the love of all existences;
And in the love of all existences, the love of Goddess.
Goddess and all goodness.)
Oh great Goddess, mother of mercy and healing
Send the energy of Hygeia to nourish from her sacred bowl.
Send the energy of Brigid to heal with waters of her sacred well.
Send the energy of Demeter to restore life to withering cells.
Send the energy of Quan Yin to bless the healing with peace.
Send your healing wisdom to the body to restore its sacred balance.
Thank You great Goddess, mother of all life.
In the ancient world, during the time of the familiar Greek and Roman Gods and Goddesses, prayer was thought of as a way to maintain reciprocity between Man and the Gods. It was thought that the pious and faithful offerings of Men would obligate protection and favor from particular gods. Prayers were more like legal documents, which could guarantee the intervention of the supplicated god in behalf of the supplicant. Sacrifices were often offered along with the prayer as a sort of Bribe. Sacrifices included animals, live plants, incense, vegetables and liquid in jugs. Grand temples were also built for the same purpose. The Egyptians were also polytheistic, making idols to represent the various Gods.
“Father Mars, I pray and beseech thee that thou be gracious and merciful to me, my house, and my household; to which intent I have bidden this suovetaurilia to be led around my land, my ground, my farm; that thou keep away, ward off and removed sickness, seen and unseen, barrenness and destruction, ruin and unseasonable influence; and that thou permit my harvests, my grain, my vine-yards and my plantations to flourish and to come to good issue, preserve in health my shepherds and my flocks, and give good health and strength to me, my house and my household To this intent, to the intent of purifying my farm, my land and my ground, and of making an expiation, as I have said, deign to accept the offering of these suckling victims; Father Mars, to the same intent deign to accept the offering of these suckling offering.”
from “On Agriculture” – Marcus Porcius Cato
Greek prayers were similar, although the offering was sometimes held as ransom for the requested help.
“Inasmuch as thou dids’t heed my vow, and grant me fair glory at Mantinea, bear witness I have been not ungrateful. I have offered to thee a white sheep, spotless and undefiled. And now I have it in my mind to attempt the pentathlon at the next Isthmia at Corinth. Grant me victory even in that; and not one sheep but five, all as good as this to-day, shall smoke upon thine altar. Grant also unto me, my kinsmen and all my friends, health, riches and fair renown.”
From “De Natura Deorum” -Cicero
And sometimes the gods were asked for curses:
“Oh! gracious, sovran Athena, blast my enemy Xenon, who strove to trip me foully in the foot race. May his wife be childless or bear him only monsters; may his whole house perish; may all his wealth take flight; may his friends forsake him; may war soon cut him off, or may he die amid impoverished, dishonored old age. If this my sacrifice has found favor in thy sight, may all these evils come upon him unceasingly. And so will I adore the and sacrifice unto thee all my life.”
From “De Natura Deorum” -Cicero
Hymn to Ra (Egyptian):
“Adoration of Ra, ever living, O Solar God who creates by utterance. O
Lord of the Sky, giver of light, Lord of the un-plundered tomb, who gives life to
those who acknowledge him; O Heavenly Father, may I enter your Kingdom of
Light, having been justified before the Tribunal. The birds in the trees exalt your name, the bulls of the field dine on your radiance that causes grasses to germinate. Distant lands echo your intellect, and are envious of your followers. O Ra, Lord of Light, Giver of Life and taker of it, cast your light of peace unto the world.”
The experiences of individual members may vary.
I would love to be able to interview members from each of these groups and ask them how the teachings of their religion relate to their actual experience with it. The LDS Church is among very few that believe in revelatory answers to prayer (officially) but I suspect that there are many from other faiths who would claim divine communication. Beyond informing my own practice of prayer and meditation, my research on this article has given me pause as I have grown in understanding and empathy for my sisters and brothers of other faiths. I hope you will let it do the same for you.